Overview of the Pancreas
The body is a complex mechanism with complex processes that facilitate its well being. The pancreas is one of the many body organs that play a critical role in the normal functioning of the human body. This is a gland located in close proximity to the duodenum and slightly behind the normal stomach, thus forming the first part of the human small intestines. Digestive juices, scientifically referred to as enzymes, are secreted by the pancreas into the duodenum via a tube known as the pancreatic duct.
These enzymes will then mix with the bile (another functional liquid manufactured in the liver but which is stored in the gallbladder) to facilitate food digestion. Another notable function of the pancreas is releasing useful hormones glucagon and insulin in their rightful amounts into the blood stream. The hormones thus help the body in glucose regulation, the glucose derived from food and which is utilized by the body as energy. It is important to note that the digestive enzymes that the pancreas secretes will be inactive until they get to the small intestine.
With that being said, as is with any other body organ, the pancreas too is prone to diseases, and one common condition associated with the pancreas is pancreas inflammation, scientifically referred to as pancreatitis. As is therefore expected, when the pancreas is highly inflamed all enzymes in it will attack and subsequently damage the tissues responsible for their manufacture. Pancreatitis can be classified as chronic or acute, and either form of it is a serious condition that can lead to very many serious and life-threatening conditions if urgent medical attention is not given on time. In severe cases of pancreatitis, one may experience infection, and bleeding which can lead to permanent damage to the tissues.
This is an abrupt inflammation of the pancreas but with urgent medical attention can resolve in a matter of days. Note however that it can lead to severe life-threatening complications. The commonest cause of this condition is the presence of gallstones… tiny pebble-like stuff made of case-hardened bile. It is the gallstones that lead to inflammation of the pancreas as they find their way through the bile duct. Every year, over 210,000 people in the US alone get admitted in hospitals because of acute pancreatitis.
One of the major causes of chronic pancreatitis is the addictive use of alcohol. Cases of chronic pancreatitis can be reported in a matter of hours up to two days of heavy consumption of alcohol. Some other associated causes of chronic pancreatitis include tumors, infections, use of medications, abdominal trauma, and genetic anomalies of the pancreas.
Symptoms of pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis will always start with a slow or abrupt pain in the upper abdomen which at times could extend right through to the back. The pain could start mild at first and continue to worsen with time especially after eating. The pain however will become very sever and constant, lasting up to several days. Someone suffering from acute pancreatitis normally would appear frail, weak, and very ill and will always demand urgent medical attention from their first expression.
Other notable symptoms of acute pancreatitis include fever, a very fast pulse, vomiting and nausea, and a tender but swollen abdomen. The condition could lead to low blood pressure and dehydration and eventually the lungs, heart, and kidneys may fail. These conditions may lead to excessive bleeding in the pancreas, which could culminate into shock and sometimes even death may ensue.
It can be very hard to diagnose pancreatitis seeing as it is the organ is located very deep and behind various other body organs. However, an experienced and qualified doctor will always diagnose the condition through a thorough physical examination, take the patient’s medical history and then order a blood test to help in the diagnosis by ruling out other conditions. In the case of pancreatitis, the patient’s blood could show signs of three times more lipase and amylase than that found in normal individuals (these are digestive enzymes normally found in the pancreas). Changes could also be noted in other chemicals of the body such as calcium, glucose, sodium, magnesium, bicarbonate, and potassium. After treatment and the condition starts to improve, things will revert back to normal.
Speaking of treatment, if you are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, you may be expected to remain in hospital for several days to get antibiotics, fluids and other medications administered through the intravenous (IV). This is because you are not allowed to drink or eat anything to allow for the much needed rest to your pancreas. In case of vomiting, you may have a tube placed via the nose down to the stomach to help get rid of excess air and fluids. Someone suffering from acute pancreatitis, unless of course unforeseen complications arise, will be back on their feet again in a few days.